Tour Bus Crash Kills 8 in California

Approximately 40 passengers were aboard a tour bus on February 3rd when, allegedly, the driver’s brakes failed, killing eight people.

A mother and her daughter, both citizens of Tijuana, Mexico, who were injured in the Southern California tour bus crash, filed a lawsuit Friday against the tour bus operator and the charter company that organized the fatal trip. The lawsuit alleges the bus company involved was negligent and failed to properly maintain their vehicles. They are alleging the company was negligent either because the driver was going too fast or because the brakes failed or some combination of the two.

The crash killed seven passengers and another man, Fred Richardson, 72, whose pickup truck was hit head-on by the bus, which had gone out of control on its way down Highway 38. At least 15 people had life-threatening injuries.

They left about 5:00 in the morning from Tijuana, Mexico and were scheduled to return back there at approximately 10:00 p.m.

At about 6:30 a.m., the 1996 bus carrying 38 people, including the driver and a tour guide, lost control of the bus. The bus struck a Saturn sedan, crossed the centerline and rolled over, ejecting passengers, and colliding with the oncoming pickup before coming to rest in the center of the road, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles.

27 patients were taken to several area hospitals with injuries ranging from minor to life threatening. Some passengers were trapped inside the bus. It took firefighters more than two hours to extricate all the injured.

One witness told KCAL-TV in Los Angeles that he saw the bus speeding downhill just before the accident, swerving past cars. “There was smoke coming from the tires, and it was looking real bad,” he said.

The lawsuit filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court names as defendants the National City, California-based Scapadas Magicas and Tijuana, Mexico-based Interbus Tours and Charters. The lawsuit also names the bus driver, Norberto B. Perez.

Guillermina Morales said that she suffered two broken legs, a broken arm and a broken pelvis in the February 3rd accident near Yucaipa and lost the use of one arm. Her daughter, Pamela Morales, also broke her arm, according to the lawsuit.

The Moraleses are both Mexican nationals. An official with the Mexican consulate was at the scene.

The bus driver was injured but survived the crash and told authorities the Interbus Tours vehicle had brake issues, said AP. Perez told investigators his brakes failed as he descended a steep mountain road while returning a busload of tourists to Tijuana after a day of skiing at Big Bear.

The cause of the crash is unclear, however, passengers reported Perez saying the brakes weren’t working as he tried to maintain control before the bus hit the sedan.

No one answered the phone at Scapadas Magicas’ offices in Tijuana and National City on Friday.

Jordi Garcia, marketing director for Interbus, said his company ran Sunday’s trip. He told U-T San Diego that 38 people departed Tijuana at 5 a.m. for a day of skiing at Big Bear. “The information that we have is that the bus’ brakes failed and the accident occurred,” he said. Perez could not be reached for comment.

The small company based about 12 miles from the Mexican border is licensed to carry passengers for interstate travel and had no crashes in the past two years. It retained an overall “satisfactory” rating from the motor carrier administration but had been targeted for a higher rate of inspections linked to bus maintenance, the agency said.

Interbus owed its passengers “a duty of care to act as a responsible tour operator by providing safe vacation getaways,” the complaint reads in part.

In particular, it owed its passengers “a duty to taking reasonable precautions to ensure that its customers would be provided safe transportation by, with respect to the transportation companies that it was going to contract, inquiring of the business’ safety record, accident record, and record of moving motor vehicle violations, compliance with laws and regulations regarding vehicle maintenance and safety, and the existence of citations and fines by governmental agencies.”

Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ordered Scapadas Magicas to immediately stop operating because its buses were not properly maintained or inspected, and its drivers were not properly vetted for qualifications.

Vehicle maintenance violations were cited 21 times in the company’s 25 most recent vehicle inspections, and vehicles had to be placed out of service after failing 36 percent of those inspections, according to the federal order.

Regulators said a post-crash investigation of the company’s two other buses that had been operating in the United States found serious mechanical safety violations.

Inspectors said the company failed to have its vehicles regularly inspected prior to the deadly crash. When the buses were inspected, there were many violations, including multiple brake problems.

The Moraleses are seeking unspecified damages, according to the lawsuit.

Eight lives were lost in this fatal bus crash on February 3rd. Three generations of one family were killed on this tragic day trip. Although the cause of the crash is unclear, allegedly the bus driver was aware that the bus had brake issues. If this is true, why would he have endangered so many lives, especially with alleged witness accounts that he was traveling at a high speed.

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